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Congress, AOPA object to airport funding cutsCongress, AOPA object to airport funding cuts

Congress, AOPA object to airport funding cuts

The Bush Administration wants to cut $1 billion from airport funding. That's not sitting well with members of Congress or AOPA.

"Clearly, we must make robust investments in our airport infrastructure today to meet anticipated future demands," wrote Representatives James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.) in a "dear colleague" letter to all other House members.

"The Bush Administration's FY2007 budget request is shortsighted.... We urge our colleagues to reject this flawed policy and join us in [asking] the leadership of the Committee on Appropriations to support the full authorized level of funding ($3.7 billion) for the AIP program."

The proposed cuts in AIP - Airport Improvement Program - is a double whammy for general aviation.

That's because it removes entitlements for more than 2,500 GA airports. Those entitlements are frequently the only source of money to improve these airports that serve GA exclusively.

"One of the key differences between air carrier and GA airports is their access to financial resources outside of those provided by the federal AIP funds," said AOPA President Phil Boyer in an editorial that will appear in the June issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.

He explained that airline landing fees, passenger gate lease fees, rent from terminal restaurants and stores, and the passenger facility charge are all sources of construction money for air carrier airports. They also can use bonding and other lending mechanisms to finance major projects.

"Our GA airports are much more limited, relying on fuel sales, tiedown fees, and hangar leases to generate revenue for the airport," Boyer said. Federal funding is also "insurance" that the airport will stay open. Part of the deal in accepting AIP funds is the promise to keep the airport operating for 20 years, or in perpetuity if the money is used to buy land.

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, some senators are also upset about the airports budget.

"I am very concerned about [what] cuts to the AIP program formula will mean specifically to the construction needs of airports, especially small airports since larger airports tend to rely on per capita passenger facility charges or bond issues to pay for their capital development," Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the Appropriations' transportation subcommittee, told FAA Administrator Marion Blakey during a May 4 hearing.

"We should be investing more," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) at the same hearing. "But instead, the Bush Administration wants to cut our support for America's airports.... I believe the FAA deserves a better budget, it deserves better leadership from the Secretary on down, it needs better management when it comes to these multi-million dollar procurements, and it needs better attention from this Congress."

FAA Administrator Blakey has called the airport funding cuts "tough medicine for local programs."

Said Boyer, "Tough medicine? I think not. AOPA, together with airport operators, will work to garner the support of Congress to restore the billion-dollar cut in federal airport funds."

AOPA's government affairs staff has already taken the message to Congress.

May 11, 2006

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